Keeping it greener with reusable gift wrap

I love gift wrap. The tradition of wrapping gifts goes back centuries. In the United States, the Hall family of Hallmark fame is credited with first marketing modern gift wrap in 1917.

But there’s a downside. Americans throw away a few million pounds of gift wrap and gift bags every Christmas. Undecorated paper (no glitter or flocking) and of course cardboard boxes are recyclable. And there are more and more recycled paper options available. Nashville Wraps’ Green way products are among my favorites. 

Two strategies we’ve adopted are to reuse paper and find sturdier reusables–like fabric–to wrap gifts. 

1. Reuse single-use wrapping: When I was a kid an artistic relative wrapped and added elaborate embellishments to a cardboard gift box that was too pretty to toss. Our family reused that box until it fell apart. Inspired by that early reusable, we started reusing gift wrappings. Our aforementioned Green way gift wrap purchased several years ago in a jumbo roll seems to hold up the best to reuse. We also reuse tags and we upcycle greeting cards into tags. 

2. Select reusables that will last for years: Organza gift bags also last a long time and come in lots of sizes. This year I tried a few new wraps made with cotton fabric. This first is Furoshiki a Japanese wrapping style that typically uses square-shaped pieces of fabric. (Bandannas are a good option.) This worked especially well for some heavy books that tend to rip wrapping paper and overwhelm paper gift bags. I used a pinking rotary cutter to pink the fabric edges so they didn’t fray. I also made a double-sided wrap.

Reusable fabric drawstring gift bags: These can be purchased on ETSY or DIY’ed if you are handy with a sewing machine and you are willing to put up with some trial and error on the road to your ideal gift bag. With fabric gift bags you can forego tissue and even boxes. We also started reusing all of the nonwoven Amazon gift bags we have received. Several years ago we bought personalized Santa sacks for each other. These beautiful bags hold a lot and negate the need for individual wrapping. 

This is where I admit that my first drawstring bag was a disaster. I used interfacing to give it body (I wanted to use it for a pretty hefty book) and it overwhelmed the ribbon drawstrings making the top too stiff to cinch closed. So I cut off the top and added a new top with plain fabric. That seemed to do the trick.

Then I tried this fat quarter-friendly (IYKYK) pattern by Melissa at Polka Dot Chair: Lined Drawstring Bag Sewing Pattern & Free SVG Files. I purchased her pattern for $4.50 and got a discount code to share. Well worth it! I love this pattern and her method saved my disaster bag. I don’t have a Cricut, but I love her embellishments.

Other patterns to check out: 

Final step: Changing your ways

The final step can be hard because changing our throwaway ways can be hard: reuse everything that you can and ask your family and friends to reuse your fabric bags or return them for a future gift.

Silhouettes of people in immersive Van Gogh experience

Immersed in Modern Art

If you have a background in art, you can skip this newbie post. If you are engaged with art but otherwise inexperienced, continue on. 

I’m taking a course called Modern Art and Ideas from the Museum of Modern Art on Coursera. Two years ago, I completed their course In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting and I have a lot of paintings to show for it. One of the things I loved about the course is that each week focused on a different postwar abstract artist and then we would paint our own painting in that painter’s style. If you want to remember art and artists, this is an outstanding learning method. 

Something that occurred to me is a common misunderstanding about modern art. You have probably heard someone say: “I just don’t understand modern art!”

But modern art isn’t solely abstract or surrealist paintings. It’s really a post-industrial shift in how and why art was created. Modern art includes the work of Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. 

Both Modern Art and Ideas and In the Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting are free to take on Coursera. Let me know if you enroll! And of course, I want to see your paintings!

Photo by Redd on Unsplash

Top-angle photography of succulents

Succulents that don’t suck

 In Arizona, everything dries out pretty quickly and you can get away with growing succulents in a variety of soil mixes. In the Pacific Northwest, different story. And I’m sorry to say that I’ve lost a disturbing number of succulents since moving here. I knew I had to make a change so I found a succulent expert, Cassidy at Succulents and Sunshine. From Cassidy, I learned about this soil mix from Bonsai Jack.

Stay tuned! I hope 2022 will mark the return of succulents to Chez Haiku!

Photo by Maria Orlova on Unsplash

Human brain on purple gradient background

Learning how to learn

One of my favorite online courses is Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley and Terry Sejnowski. And I’m not alone – 3+ million learners have taken the popular course on Coursera. 

Barb, Terry, and their colleague Beth Rogowski have a new book, Uncommon Sense Teaching, and a companion course on Coursera, so I signed up. It’s geared toward teachers but the content is relevant for anyone who has to teach others. One of the things I appreciate about the LHTL crew is their willingness to look deeply at and interrogate widely accepted beliefs about how we learn. I am just a few weeks into the course but I already can see why some teaching and training methods aren’t that effective in creating learning that lasts. 

Photo by Fakurian Design on Unsplash

New life for old glasses

I own a pair of oversized Coach sunglasses that I have had for about seven years. They are GREAT sunglasses, but the lenses had seen better days. These were spendy, so I was more careful than typical. But I am notorious for dropping my glasses and leaving them unprotected in all kinds of spots. I even ran over a pair of glasses once. 

Even though the lenses were scratched in a hundred ways, the frames were like new, so I started looking for a company that replaces lenses. This type of repair used to be impossible. But technology and the internet often make the impossible possible. And I found a company called LensDirect. I was so impressed with their ordering process and customer service. 

Here’s how it worked:

  1. I placed an order online that included describing my frames*, uploading a photo of the frames, and selecting lenses. I opted to send my prescription later.
  2. LensDirect emailed me a prepaid shipping label to ship my frames. 
  3. I was reminded several times by email to send my prescription. It was easy once I made a scan of it. I was able to reply to an email reminder and attach the prescription. 
  4. Then I was directed to an online site to measure my PD using my webcam (PD = pupillary distance, the distance between your pupils. This ensures that you can see correctly out of differently shaped and size lenses.) The technology was incredible.
  5. I also received instructions for marking the pupil position on my old lenses with a marker. (I used a silver Sharpie on my dark lenses.)
  6. I packed up my old glasses in their case and mailed them off, saying a little prayer that both would be returned to me.

I ordered the lenses on November 24, and my new glasses arrived on December 10. Pretty amazing! 

It was about $100 on sale for new polarized lenses, including shipping. I’m thrilled with my updated glasses. It’s like having new Coach sunglasses for a fraction of the cost. 

Here’s a link you can use to save $20 at LensDirect. 

*Recently I’ve learned a lot about frame and lens sizes after a lifetime of wearing glasses and making some bad purchasing decisions. Most glasses have three numbers on one of the temple arms. 

For example, 53  ᷨ 17  145

  • 53 the width of the lens in millimeters
  • 17 is the width of the nose bridge in millimeters
  • 145 is the length of the temple arm in millimeters

Another helpful measurement is the height of the lens. It’s easy to find this measurement with a ruler. 

If you have a pair of glasses that you like, you can use the shape of the lens plus these numbers to find similar frames. 

Also: a tip if you are having difficulty reading the numbers on the temple pieces: take a photo with your phone. You’ll be able to enlarge the image so that you can read the numbers more easily. Understanding these numbers helped me realize why some of the frames I’ve selected over the years were perfect, and others are awkward or uncomfortable.

A woman in a gray sweater throwing dried maple leaves in the air

Rethinking everything

One of the hardest things to do as a human is to reassess long-held beliefs, behaviors and traditions. 

There’s a lot holding us in place. Our families, the media, and society keep us hanging on long past the time that it makes sense. I once had a job where I had to be careful of suggesting new ideas because if we did something once it became a tradition. Inspired by Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and Adam Grant’s Think Again and J. Milburn’s Responsive Parenting, I have been interrogating my beliefs. Recognizing preferences for identity-first language over person-first construction, I stopped thinking of autism as a disease, I started to understand addiction as a perfectly reasonable response to trauma, and I am letting go of hands at 10 and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel

Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday for a long time until it wasn’t. On the surface, it seems laudable: family togetherness, good food and gratitude. But as an adult navigating the holiday, I learned that Thanksgiving can be miserable for many and not that great for vegetarians. Everyone means well.  Even though I am not evangelical about vegetarianism (it’s hard and it’s not for everyone), I have felt like a freak on Thanksgiving more than once. No surprise: that kills the good feelings around the holiday. 

A couple of years ago, I decided to be very selective about Thanksgiving companions. I was tired of explaining myself and tired of less-than-hospitable behavior. Last year, the day was a non-event, spent like any other day off. And it felt … good. There was no pressure, no cooking marathon with piles of dishes, and no overconsumption. 

This year, I am questioning a holiday that is as much about overindulgence as it is about family–maybe more. And it’s based on a false narrative that from an indigenous person’s point of view is hurtful. For some, the third Thursday in November is a day of mourning

So I’m letting it go. 

I know that’s controversial. And it’s very difficult. It’s hard to let go of a lifelong tradition, one that is deeply entrenched in U.S. culture. I respect the meaning and importance it has for others and I will try to feel thankful every day. But like hands on a steering wheel, I can shift.

After all, Gardein turkey cutlets are available year-round.

Red chili peppers on a gray surface

Homemade chile oil FTW

We ran out of chili onion crunch sauce from Trader Joe’s recently. OMG, buy two of these when you can. (Chile or chili? Here’s helpful guidance from Merriam-Webster: Chili, Chilli, and Chile: Explaining the Difference.)

Two of my new favorite go-to recipes call for chile oil or crunchy garlic and it turns out chile oil is an easy DIY! 

I used this recipe from the New York Times and was amazed and happy with the results! Tasty! (The whole recipe is really good but I didn’t think it was necessary to bake the noodles.) Also found this one: Chile Crisp Recipe – NYT Cooking, and this one How to Make Chili Oil: The Perfect Recipe! 

Next up is this homemade vegan Worcestershire sauce from Karissa’s Vegan Kitchen! There’s a non-alcoholic version of a tomato juice-based drink in the near future with my name on it. 

Photo by Christina Rumpf on Unsplash

Amaryllis Girl

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn

This summer, inspired by Amaryllis Man and my friend and fellow MG, Darrel, I successfully hand-pollinated my red amaryllis after two failed attempts. It set seed — lots and lots of seed. Wait for the seed pod to mature. It will split open revealing papery black seeds.

Amaryllis is a blooming bulb often sold at Christmastime in the Northern Hemisphere. It belongs to the genus Hippeastrum. Amaryllis is the common name. 

The technique I learned to propagate the seeds is to float the papery seeds in a dish of water until they sprout one leaf and one root and then plant them in small pots. I was hoping for a handful.

I now have 32 amaryllis starts in addition to five full-grown bulbs.

You might be wondering how long it takes amaryllis to go from seed to a  flowering bulb, and it takes 4-5 years.  

I recently transplanted mine from 2-inch to 4-inch pots, and they have bulbs the size of small green onions. Belatedly, I realized that I could have put a bunch of seedlings in one big pot. I’ll be ready for the next time. 

Crocheted chickens sitting on nests

We try it first, so you don’t have to

Two new novel foods we tried this month: Just Egg, a vegan egg substitute and Beyond Meat’s Brats. Two thumbs up for both. We tried three different Just Egg products: the liquid (makes scrambled eggs, 5g protein), folded (7g protein, and heats up in the toaster! C’mon!) and egg bites, like little quiches, maybe?

I have never eaten a brat before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but it smelled and tasted great (16g protein).

A lot of people wonder about the allure of vegan meat substitutes. There are two draws for me: 1) variety. I mean, do you like eating the same thing all the time? And 2) it lets you experiment with all types of dishes and recipes. To me, it’s like any other type of substitute you might make when you don’t have all the ingredients for a recipe.

A green and black hummingbird in flight

From the Game Room: Asynchronous play

An occasional post from Robert

It can be hard to find time to sit down to play a board game, particularly if a game takes an hour or more to play. But if you have a place where you can leave a game set up, you don’t have to play a complete game in one sitting, or even with all the players gathered at the same time. 

The history of asynchronous play
Asynchronous board game play has been around for a long time – two or more people playing a game, not at the same time and not all in one sitting. Asynchronous chess has been a tradition for decades, with enthusiasts even playing games across long distances by mail, email, or by message board post. This involves two players each having a chess board set up at their place and taking turns sending each other their moves using a naming convention for the pieces and squares on the board. 

Asynchronous online and mobile games
In recent years, the term “asynchronous game” has become most strongly associated with online and mobile games. Many online or mobile app games are designed to play asynchronously (such as Words with Friends). There are also many app adaptations of board games that can be played asynchronously. However, many physical board games can be played asynchronously as well. 

Many modern board games are ideal for asynchronous play
Many modern “euro” board games (and some thematic games and board wargames) don’t involve much player interaction and are thus well suited for asynchronous play. These games are often described as multiplayer solitaire, so it follows that one player can take their turn without other players present. And if a game includes some mechanisms whereby one player’s actions affect other players, setting up a system to communicate these effects can be straightforward. 

In our house, we have played countless games of Splendor, Azul, The Builders, and other similar board games asynchronously over the last couple of years. These games do not involve player interaction, other than which cards, chips, or tiles one player takes on their turn restricts the resources available for the other players. We usually have at least two different board games going at once and take a turn whenever we are taking a break. Sometimes, especially if we know that the game is coming to an end, we’ll sit down together and play several turns together in synchronous mode. It’s an exciting way to finish the game. 

Other games may need special agreements to play asynchronously
We’ve also figured out how to play a few games asynchronously that do include some player interaction, including Wingspan. Most of the bird powers in Wingspan only affect the player who activates them, but a small set of bird cards have pink powers that activate when other players take actions, and some other cards provide a benefit to all players. With a game like this, it’s important to agree on an etiquette and communication system before playing to handle such situations. For example, with Wingspan, agreeing that players will let each other know when they have pink power cards and how they trigger, or that when a player activates an “all players” power, they will let the other player(s) know that they also receive that benefit. 

Solutions to these types of issues will vary from game to game. It also helps if all players are familiar with the game and have played it at least once synchronously, but that’s not necessary. We have played a few board games asynchronously that were new to us. 

Asynchronous roleplaying games?
There is also a long history of play-by-email or play-by-forum with role play games such as Dungeons and Dragons. These gained new adherents during the COVID pandemic, using online forums such as Discord. This is a very different experience than playing in person, or synchronously online, but it may be a good fit for you if you do not have long chunks of time available for gaming. 

Photo by AARN GIRI on Unsplash